Where flannelette pj’s are high fashion
25.05.2010 - 29.05.2010 40 °C
Well I have gone out and bought a mini notebook computer thing to make this whole blogging experience a lot easier (I am sitting in the airconditioned comfort of our hotel room as I am typing this). I have been having issues with the how slow and unreliable the internet is at the internet cafes. With all the wifi that is available these days it should make it a bit easier and allow us to update more often.
We get off the bus in Phnom Penh. It is 7pm and we haven’t organized any where to stay. Once again our bags mysteriously end up inside a travel agents office with the rest of the westerner’s luggage (The Cambodians left to struggle to get their own out of the bus) and we are surrounded with ‘helpful’ people wanting to help us find a place to stay. Matt and I Have decided that this time we would find a place of our own accord and look at a few before committing to one. We start walking leaving one Tuk Tuk driver almost in tears talking about his family. I feel really bad but I am sick of being ripped off. We walked down the river and found some really cool looking restaurants.
I swear walking down the street with your backpack on is like having a sign on your chest saying ‘even though I say I say I don’t want help in finding a hotel I don’t really mean it. You should ask me at least 3 times. All of you!!’. Every corner there is about 7 drivers. After about 4 blocks I was getting a bit over it. Matt was talking to one who said that he would take us to a place and if we didn’t like it we didn’t have to pay him. I relented. I just didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore. They really have it down to a fine art. Another thing. It is like I don’t exist. They won’t listen to me when I say ‘No’ they just look through me and then to Matt and ask him. Annoying.
We get to the hotel and Matt runs inside to check it out. It’s ok but cheap. We have over spent our budget the last few weeks so we are trying to do it a bit cheaper. So we pay the Tuk Tuk driver and take the room. There goes my determination to find a room unaided.
Phnom Penh is a huge city. Poverty is rampant in most areas and very visible. I couldn’t count the amount of women who have asked me for milk with babies in their arms. I have been told that this is a scam though. Apparently they have deals with the store owners of the stores they are standing in front of who pay them commission when they return the milk after you have left. Still it is heartbreaking though.
There is beauty in the city though. Matt has made friends with the Tuk Tuk drivers out the front of our hotel. He bought them beer and they now think he is the bee’s knees. Every time I leave the hotel alone they always yell out to me ‘Where your friend lady’. Matt loves it. He has his own fan base. Bought for only 3 dollars!!! In all seriousness it was a really nice thing he did. They have been sitting out there for days asking us every time we have left the building. They have never been too pushy and they have been super polite. They deserved a reward of some kind.
The Tuk Tuk drivers seem a bit more desperate here than Siem Reap. On our first day we went to a shopping centre and wandered out at about 7pm. We were swarmed. About 8 tuk tuk drivers standing in front of us all talking at the same time and all wanting the job. We eventually take the one who will give us the best price naturally. But sometimes we have asked for a price that we believe is fair and it has taken a while for the driver to come down to it. When we have reached our destination we realize that maybe we should have offered a bit more (Although I do have my suspicions that they have taken the long way to make us feel guilty).
The first couple of days here were spent shopping and wandering around getting to know the place (I am determined not to get overly ripped off in the first few hours in a new place) and hanging around the hotel watching movies (so lame I know but I feel like a need a little break from holidaying sometimes).
We decided that we were not going to make the trip out to the killing fields but Matt really did want to see the prison S-21 where the people were held before they were sent to the field. I am a bit on the fence about this stuff. I find it really hard to deal with. I am all for the knowledge of what has happened in our history but seeing the exact torture devices that were used on thousands of innocent people is just a bit too gory for me – I am more of a fuzzy animal and waterfall kind of girl. However we came all the way to Cambodia so I agreed to go.
We got a tuk tuk there and when we pulled up we were confronted with a 7 foot fence covered in razor wire. As we walked in the gate and looked around you can really tell that is used to be a high school. They still had the different height bars identical to the ones that I played on in primary school. I walked slowly over to the first building and see 14 graves outside. They are the people that were found already deceased when the place was raided. We go into one of the ‘torture rooms’ and see a bed with the smallest shackles laying on it and some other horrible looking device. There was also a picture above the bed with the device being used. I didn’t stay in there long. Matt was taking his time so left and stuck my head in a few rooms. They were all identical but with different pictures and different devices. I waited outside for Matt to finish. The whole place is eerie. It started to rain and it felt fitting. We made our way through the buildings until we came to the one with all the photos. It was horrible. They all looked dead already. Some of them would have only been 13. Men and women. Some of the photos were place next to ones of their corpses. They were mangled – both shoulders ripped out of their sockets, starved and bruised. I feel like throwing up at this point. It is unbelievable the amount of evil that seems to be almost tolerated by large numbers of people. Even when these people were run out of the country they were still trying to and succeeding to torture the Cambodian people.
We saw the tiny cells where people were kept and the barbed wire that coated the front of the building so that people could not commit suicide by jumping off. They were determined that these people suffer for as long as possible. They turned former play equipment into torture devices. When I walked into a room full of skulls which I was not expecting at all I was a bit over whelmed. The skulls in the cabinets labeled ‘Unidentified male aged between 20 and 30 years. Cause of death – blunt force trauma to the rear of head’. What I couldn’t get around was that these were people. With lives and personalities. And now their remains are on display. I was all too much and I decided to wait outside.
On a lighter note we went out for dinner one night and met a couple of Australian brothers who told us about a casino that was not far away. We were about 8 beers in and so naturally we thought it would be a bright idea to go down and check it out. We go with the brothers and walk into the most luxurious building I have been in here in Asia. They had huge chandeliers beautiful furnishings. We walk into the gambling area and I am surprised. Compared to Crown they have basically no security. But they do have free beer… Dangerous. The two Aussie boys wanted to play Blackjack and since Matt had convinced them that I was a seasoned player they wanted me to play with them. We changed some money over and I headed to the table. I gave the guys a quick rundown of the basics and off we went. I didn’t lose any money. I was pretty proud. Matt made up for it though playing Baccarat. We lost a day’s budget. We got back to the hotel. Matt had continued drinking at the casino – I hadn’t. He was pretty drunk.
We woke up the next morning and as expected he felt like he had a tonne of bricks had fallen on his head. We slept late and I left him to wallow in his own self pity and went off to find a cup of half decent coffee (which I found - YAY). I came back hours later only to find Matt in the same position. In bed. After hours of convincing him we go out for some dinner. Matt doesn’t eat. We even catch a tuk tuk the 5 blocks back to the hotel. Matt looks green. I am starting to worry. He doesn’t normally have hangovers that affect him this badly. He gets a fever. I start to get more worried. He is so hot and I start to think that I am going to have to call an ambulance and then there would be airlifting (I tend to get a bit overdramatic sometime and think the worst). I know there is nothing I can do until morning. I make him comfortable and settle in for a very broken night’s sleep. At about 4am he wakes me. He feels much better and his fever has broken. I immediately feel better myself and manage a couple hours of decent sleep.
We have found that the street food over here is a bit unobtainable. We can’t seem to order anything and when Matt tried it was horrible and he was laughed away. However….. We found these stalls that were selling grilled chicken and it was awesome. They put it in a bag with some lime and seasoning and we found a park area to sit in. This is the kind of thing I love. There were kids running around and having fun. Music was playing and the mums were in a group doing aerobics led by a very flamboyant looking man. The grandmothers were sitting and watching the kids. It was like a scene from movie. Almost too perfect to be true and definitely too perfect compared to the poverty covering the rest of the city. I am pretty sure we are in the middle class part of the town by this stage. Anyway the moment was perfect.
A day at the markets will sum up this entry. They have this market called ‘Central Market’ which is a huge Art Deco building that was built in the 1920’s. It is supposed to be the best example of Art Deco architecture in South East Asia and it is pretty impressive. The stalls are pretty impressive too. We walked through the florist’s part of the market and they had the most amazing rose bouquets for around 15 - 20 dollars. I swear they were about as big as me. We had fun haggling with the Cambodian people and got a couple bargains and a couple not so bargainy. Our backpacks are now beyond bursting and we are going to have to ship things home as soon as we hit Vietnam.
Tomorrow we are hoping to do the Russian market and the Grand Palace and heading off the Vietnam on Monday.
More photos to come soon
Love to everyone